Friday, May 7, 2010

Winsor McCay - Animation Milestone

On May 7, 1915, 95 years ago today, a great tragic injustice occurred. 8 miles from shore at just after 2 p.m. a German U-Boat attacked the British civilian ocean liner "Lusitania" as she traveled through heavy fog. Reportedly a single torpedo was fired and 18 minutes later the huge ship had sunk, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people on board including more than 100 children.

An act of war is what the German's called it, I guess all those women and children going on vacation really put a thorn in Kaiser bill's helmet.

I'm not here to delve in to this horrible tragedy though, I'm not qualified. Please feel free to read more about this important event in 20th century history's fascinating.

This blog doesn't exist to talk about the horrific things that humans are capable of inflicting on each other. This blog is here to celebrate worthwhile people and the worthwhile things they've done.

This event in 1915 helped to spark emotions of the world during what became World War I, and from those emotions also came a great work of art and an advance in a dawning art form.

Animation is an art form that goes back to the dawn of man I assume. Defined it is the process of making "alive" what isn't. To give the static, motion.

The motion picture in itself is animation in it's rawest form. A sequence of still pictures advancing in action, flipped before our eyes at 24 frames per second.

Now in this time (1915) motion picture's did exist, but how do you impart the drama of something like the sinking of The Lusitania when there were no cameras around? How do you artistically depict something on this grand scale, even with the illusions that were at hand?

How does an artist relate what he's feeling through images, when no images exist? And make them move?

Winsor McCay figured that out!

In the days before the industry wide adoption of "cell" animation (where parts of the drawing are put on different layers and foreground items are painted on cellulose sheets to let the background show through) Winsor McCay, single-handedly drew the following animated film. Painstakingly drawing every movement in each frame. This was a way for him to express the horror and tragedy of what had happened and to help other people envision it all.

Granted he used tricks as repeated sequences to flush out the film, but this doesn't take away the sweat that went into this.

Like "Avatar" today, Winsor used animation to show things that couldn't be shown in real life. He brought us what we couldn't see with his own vision. And that was worthwhile!

See y'all tomorrow!


Lysdexicuss said...

Huge 'Silas' fan~ but had never seen this particular piece of animation, Jeff~! Thanx for sharing~!

I am very partial to McCay's 'Rarebit Fiends' strip, as they are random one-shot snippits of various peoples' paranoid night-sweats.

Jeff Overturf said...

I've got a whole book of 'em here Lys. I'll put it in the scanning file for a future date. If you click the Winsor McCay hyperlink in the above post, it'll take you to the post I did for Silas' birthday...a couple rarebit samples there.

I have the complete Fantagraphics color reprints of his Nemo strip too, too large for my scanner though...I may have to take them into work sometime.

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